Short post this time. I’m doing a piece by piece deconstruction of a novel I highly recommend as a great read, and now recommend as a useful learning vehicle for revising writing. The book is “Prayers for Rain” by Dennis Lehane. He’s the author of two other megabestsellers you might have read or recognize–“Mystic River” and “Shutter Island.”
Based partly on what I’ve learned from the Margie Lawson Writer’s Academy courses I’ve taken, and partly my twist on that learning, I’m finding that highlighting individual components of one’s Work in Progress (WIP) can be instructive. I’m starting with highlighting dialogue only, chapter by chapter, then reading each chapter’s dialogue aloud, as one solid conversation. I analyze for character definition, author voice, vocabulary, cadence and rhythm, and any other trait of the author’s that impresses me, good or bad.
While highlighting the dialogue, I uncover sections where there is no dialogue, and can see what they entail- narrative, backstory, internal thoughts, whatever, and see how that combines with the dialogue to make an effective chapter. I’m already noticing trends or tendencies in Lehane’s dialogues, as well as some structural devices he uses. I’m not even half way through my analysis and have already decided that Lehane is masterful at defining characters by their dialogue. Differences are subtle in some cases, but obvious when extracted from the rest of the prose and looked at character by character.
My hope is that by studying a masterwork piece by piece, some of that craft will rub off on my and my writing and inch me closer to the league in which Dennis Lehane plays (writes).
My question to you: What tricks, tools, or techniques have you begged, borrowed, stolen or developed all by your lonesome, that help you in your revision process?
That is a very good way of learning from other writers’ craft. I have realized that after I edit one of my stories, letting it rest for weeks-or even months- helps me to see things that I can do to improve them when I go back to them. I think it was Jorge Luis Borges who said that you really don’t learn from a story until you read it a second time. As a reader and writer, when I read short stories or novels I analyse what the writer did to paint a scene, to expose the characters’ emotions, conflicts, tension, etc. Whenever I read, I learn. Great post.
Thanks for commenting, Julia. I’m more and more a believer of letting a story sit and coming back to it a second time much later. It freshens one’s eyes and mind.